Of the Baker City Herald

High school students unsure about what they want to do with their lives can work at a family-wage job as soon as two years after high school graduation. And they can do it right here in Baker County.

Young people would do well to consider a career in nursing, or positions as radiology or laboratory technician or even pharmacist. All will be in demand in the coming years; the local hospital always needs nurses, according to one official, and is looking hard for a pair of radiology technicians right now.

Were always trying to lead our children to good career choices, said Janet Hanna, Vice President of Patient Care Services at St. Elizabeth Health Services. Why not a family-wage job at the hospital in your hometown? We ought to be encouraging our young people to get educated in fields where they can get good jobs.

To fill the demand, the hospital actively recruits experienced medical professionals from out of the area.

Victoria Davies, the hospitals nursing director, moved to Baker City a year ago after more than 20 years as an acute care nurse.

I just came out last year to visit friends, she said. Everywhere I went I found an incredible sense of community. Miners Jubilee was just a hoot to me.

To me, nursing is not just a job, but a profession. As a nurse you can do practically anything, from pediatrics to long-term care. Its an amazing opportunity.

Education for a career

Both Blue Mountain Community College and Treasure Valley Community College offer two-year associate degree programs in nursing. Eastern Oregon University has a four-year bachelors degree program.

At St. Elizabeth, the salary range for nurses begins at $37,000 annually and tops out at about $55,000. Schedules are flexible; hospital nurses work three 12-hour shifts weekly.

Radiology technicians must complete a three- or four-year degree program, but upon graduation command beginning salaries of about $50,000, Hanna said. Area pharmacists can expect to make at least $62,000 annually, but theyre required to complete a graduate degree program.

Attracting qualified professsionals is a competitive business. Recruiters often offer healthcare professionals bonuses to relocate; most are in the $5,000-$10,000 range. Hospitals sometimes pay relocation expenses as well.

St. Elizabeth currently has its full complement of between 40 and 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses, Hanna said, as well as the two pharmacists it needs. With a half-dozen radiology technicians on staff, the hospital is shy by two. The laboratory technician work is contracted out, Hanna said.

Most rural hospitals are begging for more nurses and other skilled positions, Hanna said. Across the nation, theres an 11 percent vacancy rate among nurses about 126,000 in all. One-third of the nations nurses are 50 or older; only 10 percent of nurses are 30 or under.

But the problem is not as acute now as its going to be, Hanna said: by 2007, as Baby Boomers begin to retire and require increased hospitalization, the nursing shortage will be at its most critical stage.

Getting healthcare professionals to move to Baker City is not too difficult, once they realize all the amenities the area has to offer, Hanna said. The hospital puts the communitys best foot forward to prospective employees, sending them packets from the Baker County Visitor andamp; Convention Bureau as well as the videotape The Baker County Comeback.

The hospitals also offering cash on the barrelhead, of a sort. Beginning this fall, St. Elizabeth will pay the tuition of two or three nursing students who agree to come to work here upon graduation, Hanna said. In addition, certain in-demand jobs will be filled with relocation bonuses.

The hospital has also ratcheted up pay for nurses, radiology technicians and pharmacists, and improved the benefits package it offers it its employees, including a vision benefit.

Technology changing

Besides the aging population, its the improving technology in the healthcare field that is driving the demand for more professionals. At St. Elizabeth, for example, last years purchase of the helical scanner means more people are coming to the hospital for their radiological procedures.

Improving technology supports increasing the number of staff, Hanna said. We want to keep as much business in the community as possible.

Hospital work, she said, attracts all kinds of personality types. People who enjoy computers are drawn to jobs in radiology, a field where a firm grasp of technology is vital. If you have people skills, nursing is the job for you, she said.